samedi 25 juillet 2009
Bonnie Tinker in my memories
It is the eve of the memorial service for my friend Bonnie Tinker, one of the greatest activists I have ever known personally. Bonnie was killed by a truck while she was bicycling, far from home attending a Quaker conference, taking time out to train for a major ride for the environment. I learned about Bonnie's death while watching a weekly news program called "Gay USA". It was a shock to hear this: one doesn't think about old friends dying in this way. But I'm sitting here now, hours before the memorial, and my head is full of wonderful "Bonnie" memories...
I don't know who I would be today had I not known Bonnie Tinker and her spouse and life partner Sara Graham. In 1977, I was 20 years old, pregnant, and on the run from an abusive husband. I was new to Portland, Oregon, had only been there a couple of weeks, when I found myself in a phone booth with a single dime to my name. The crisis center I called sent me to Bradley-Angle House, a shelter for battered women. Of course, I didn't know at the time that Bonnie was one of the main founders of BA House, named for two Portland women who had been brutally murdered.
Bonnie Tinker was BA House's director at the time and Sara Graham was the women's main counselor. From the moment I arrived, I felt an environment of love, acceptance and support. I was helped through my divorce, through the welfare system, given therapy. But most of all, I made a pack of friends that I will feel close to for the rest of my life, and this includes our dear friends and mentors, Bonnie and Sara; they grew us into lifelong activists and compassionate women, and set the supreme example by living what they believed and spoke about.
After I'd been at BA House for a couple of months, I developed a huge crush on Sara, and I decided I would break the news to her by inviting her to lunch; I was so nervous. When I told her, she looked at me with those big beagle eyes of hers brimming with love and acceptance, and said, "Oh, Laura, that is so beautiful, I'm flattered. But I must tell you, I'm in love with someone else: it's Bonnie! Just don't tell anyone because we haven't broken the news yet!" I remember I didn't feel deflated in any way; I was actually overjoyed! What a wonderful match! And indeed it proved to be: Bonnie and Sara were a couple for 32 years, raised three children, and shared every work, every joy and every sorrow two people could share. Bonnie was the mother of Connie and Sara was the mother of Josh. And then together, they became the mothers of Alex. They were and are an awesome family.
I lived at BA House for six months and wound up falling in love with a very dear friend I had made there, Melaina. She had two children, Monty, 4, and Victoria, 5, and, together over the next five years, we shared in the birth and care of my son Paul. I'll never forget the surprise baby shower that the BA House gang threw at Melaina's and my new home nor what Bonnie and Sara brought as a gift: the cutest one-piece Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit pyjama, yellow on top and pastel blue on the bottom; it was the softest clothing Paul ever had as a baby. I remember I saved that little suit for years after Paul outgrew it! Funny how those things stick with you through the years, the memories of dear friends, of love and softness...
Melaina and I were always worrying about baby-proofing the house, but we couldn't control what went on in other people's homes. Once when Melaina and I were visiting Sara and Bonnie in their fantastic old, stained-wood house (like gingerbread!) in NE Portland, Paul, around 2 years old at the time, came toddling out of the back room carrying a two-foot ax in both hands; it was as big as he was! All four adults were mortified, of course, but I remember Sara saying, once we all calmed down, that there was no way to protect a child against everything he or she might encounter in the world. How true that turned out to be, and not only for children: We can't know the future, can we? All we can do is love each other right now, do our best for each other right now.
Well, Bonnie Tinker was a great example of that commitment and intention! Not only did she found BA House; years later she started another organization called "Love Makes a Family" which taught cross cultural dialogue in schools and throughout the community on the topic of what constitutes families and how to support them. She and her staff gave support to gay students, teachers and parents in a system that often wishes to exclude them, or else bullies them. Years ago at the beginning of Love Makes a Family, Bonnie and Sara's son Josh bravely went on the Ricky Lake show to talk about being a gay and mixed race family; they were so proud to be who they were and to have enough love to make it work, not only for themselves, but for everyone.
Bonnie and Sara weren't afraid to tackle the really big issues, even the biggest monster in the room: racism. I remember how the multi-racial staff at BA House struggled to be inclusive and took on the issue of racism, especially our own! I grew so much in these, at times, heated discussions that almost always ended with everybody's growth. Most people just want to pretend that race doesn't exist when, actually, they are running away from their own feelings and from each other. Bonnie and Sara were determined that we were going to try to understand each other and work together toward consensus, and though the going got rough at times, it pulled together such a diverse group of women, in terms of race, age, class, sexuality; it made us very close. That work has impacted my whole life, how I interact with other people, how I love them. I'm so grateful for the work we did on racism.
Finally, during the time after my partner Ron and I moved to Astoria and I lost contact with Bonnie and Sara (though I never stopped thinking about them), these two dynamite women dove headfirst into trying to stop the Iraq War, and they protested it continuously, even putting their own bodies on the line and getting arrested. They painted, with red washable paint, the number of dead soldiers on the Portland downtown recruitment center as part of a group called "The Seriously Pissed-Off Grannies". They marched in the Portland Pride Parade under this banner; Bonnie's slogan, "DO ask, DO tell, DON'T join!" I just love that!
And yet, if you knew Bonnie, as a woman, a friend, a spirit, and a lifelong Quaker, you would remember the gentleness of her ways, firm and passionate but without any hint of hatred or violence. This seemed to be such a core part of who she was, woven into her very genes. You could feel the history of the Tinker family within her, such a longstanding regard for nonviolence. I knew I could never be a Bonnie Tinker, but I think that working with her gentled my own spirit, even as knowing Sara expanded me intellectually and emotionally. I loved to be with both of them so much, separately and together.
So here I am, the night before Bonnie's memorial, and I'm thinking about Sara a lot as I have been for the last couple of weeks, knowing how hard this must be and wishing her well with all my heart. (I love you, Sara.)... and their children Connie, Josh, and Alex. Bonnie, may you rest in peace... and though it's a nice thing to say, it's pretty useless because, well, you always have. I love you and I thank you. ~lt xoxoxoxoxox